The Internet has given rise to dozens of new forms of communication, one of which being Internet forums and message boards. There are forums and message boards for just about every topic, some of which require membership to a site, while others have free registration just for the forums. Some forums are visible to the public and others require registration, but whatever the case, Internet forums and message boards give everyone a voice. One of the problems that springs from this convenience, however, is the question of etiquette. What exactly is appropriate behavior on Internet forums and message boards?
Review the Forums to Avoid Duplicate Posts. One of the common problems with etiquette on Internet forums and message boards is the duplication of posts. One person will post a question or raise an issue and a new user will pose the same topic on another thread three days later. Not only is this a waste of your time, but it can also irritate veteran members of the forum who are tired of seeing the same issues raised over and over again.
Never Use ALL CAPS. One of the pitfalls of Internet communication is that people can’t read your tone of voice or intention beyond what you say on the forum or message board. When you type in all CAPS, reader interpret your tone as yelling because that is common for people who fail to use sentence case. So put in the extra effort to create sentences in sentence case or, if you don’t have the time or inclination, write in all lowercase letters instead. This is still annoying but it won’t make people as angry as all CAPS.
Use Correct Spelling and Punctuation. Your postings on Internet forums and message boards don’t have to be ready for publication in a novel, but they shouldn’t be riddled with grammatical and spelling errors, either. Proper etiquette entails that you make an effort to write correctly, if only so that other forum members can understand what you’re saying. “NetSpeak” (‘u’ for ‘you’; ‘k’ for ‘okay’; ‘cuz’ for ‘because’, etc.) is also becoming less acceptable as Internet forums and message boards become more sophisticated and draw more professional users.
Ask Before You Attack. In many cases, a seemingly offensive post is not meant the way it sounds due to the lapses in communication on the Internet. Before you dig in with both claws to provide a snappy and nasty comeback, consider asking the original poster to clarify what he or she meant. If it turns out that you were correct in your original interpretation, you can feel free to speak your mind; however, if you weren’t correct, people will respect you for having an open mind.
Ignore Spamming. One of the great things about Associated Content’s forums is that there are very few instances of spamming. When it does happen, the members of the forum ignore whoever is creating the ruckus and everything is back to normal in a few hours. Don’t encourage spamming by drawing attention to it; instead, pretend it doesn’t exist or notify a moderator so that the offending post can be removed. Likewise, don’t provide your own spam; keep self promotion to a forum section that allows it, if any.
Don’t Include All Previous Posts. There’s nothing more annoying in a forum or message board than people who copy all previous posts into their own. If you have a specific passage on which you want to comment, feel free to copy it in your post, but don’t include them all. Internet etiquette dictates that you make reading as easy on everyone else as possible. If they have to scroll through twenty posts in which all previous posts are quoted, no one will want to return to the thread. The rule of thumb for this form of etiquette is to never quote more text than you intend to write yourself.
Use Topic-Specific Titles. Many people read threads based on their titles, so try to be as specific as possible. Don’t say that your topic is one thing when you plan to talk about several other things. This doesn’t mean you can’t expand on your topic, but try to keep it as relevant as possible.
Take Personal Issues Off the Forums. Internet forums and message boards are for public discussions which bear relevance to more than a few people. If you have a personal issue with someone else, take it off the forums. If the message board offers a private message function, use it. If not, exchange e-mail addresses and continue the discussion in private.
Avoid Power Posting. Some Internet message boards and forums offer prizes or awards to the people who contribute the most to discussions. This leads to “power posting”, which involves replying to threads with empty messages or with nothing more to say than “LOL” or an emoticon. If you don’t have anything useful to say, don’t reply.
Avoid Trolling. A troll is someone who posts topics on message boards with the sole purpose of instigating argument or debate. It is definitely an etiquette no-no and will earn you the disrespect of everyone on the forum. It is usually easy to identify a troll after they’ve been on the boards a few weeks, and you could easily wind up with a suspended account.
Don’t Flame the Staff. Many message boards and forums are run by a company or service provider, such as Associated Content. Flaming the staff on their message board is akin to going to someone’s house just to insult them; it isn’t proper etiquette, and is just plain rude. If you have a legitimate complaint, post it with courtesy and decorum. If necessary, wait until you’ve calmed down to post a message about it in the forums.
Post Under the Proper Categories. It is never enjoyable to find a post about politics under a forum category called Job Opportunities for Web Designers. Keep your threads consistent with the topics that govern them and ask if you aren’t sure where to post a particular subject. The moderators don’t want to spend all their time rearranging threads.
Avoid Hijacking a Thread. Hijacking involves posting a new idea or topic on someone else’s thread. Sometimes, if the topic is related, this is okay, but try to post new threads if you need to start a different discussion. People who are interested in your topic can go to your thread and you won’t offend anyone else this way.
Use Your Words. Finally, I encourage you to “use your words”. Did your mother ever tell you that when referring to general etiquette? This means finding better words than cuss words or inappropriate comments. If you can’t post without cursing or otherwise being offensive, move on and post on a different thread.
Obviously, this isn’t an exhaustive analysis of Internet forum and message board etiquette, but it should get you started. The most important thing is to be polite and civil whenever possible.